Despite some RTM support, more dough for officials is a no go
Updated 5:51 pm, Wednesday, October 2, 2013
There remains a wealth of opinions about increasing the first selectman's salary even though the candidates pursuing the town's top office in November say they do not want a raise.
The Representative Town Meeting on Tuesday night was the latest body to hear discussion of the issue.
There hasn't been an increase in the first selectman's salary in 10 years.
"I personally think he or she should be paid more," he said Tuesday, referring to this year's candidates, Democrat Helen Garten and Republican Jim Marpe.
Garten, finance board vice chairwoman, and Marpe, former vice chairman of the Board of Education, have both said they would not accept a salary increase, even if one is approved.
RTM member Dewey Loselle said an analysis of salaries of top officials in other area communities was done and sent to the finance board. That data indicated that, with adjustments, such as cost of living over 10 years, and in keeping with what other comparable officials are paid, the first selectman's salary should be approximately $130,000, he said. Based on that, he said, "We thought the Board of Finance would give an increase."
Loselle said the current salary, because it is relatively low, makes the job one that "only the elite can have."
Loselle said this includes "the well-off retired and the independently wealthy" and excludes "those who are single-earner family men or women who would have to give up their job" if elected.
RTM member Lois Schine said she knows people qualified for the job, but didn't want to run "due to the salary."
"There is nothing we can do about this tonight," said RTM member Dick Lowenstein. "We do need a charter change to correct this problem."
Lowenstein said he planned to abstain from voting on the motion to keep the first selectman's salary the same and asked other members to join him, to send a message to the finance board that they do not approve of the board's decision. The vote was 10 in favor of the finance recommendation, 4 against and 13 abstaining.
The RTM also voted to keep the compensation for the town's two selectmen the same -- at $2,000 a year. That motion passed with 23 in favor, 2 opposed and two abstaining.
At a special meeting Monday, when the finance panel had voted to make its recommendation not to increase the selectmen's compensation, the issue of the first selectman's also arose.
Lowenstein, who also attended that meeting, said that while the two candidates for first selectman have indicated they won't accept a salary increase even if one is approved, it doesn't mean one shouldn't be considered.
"They don't have to take something they don't want," he said of Garten and Marpe.
"Look who's at the bottom of the pack" salary-wise, he added of the current pay level for the first selectman. "It's Westport."
But Janis Collins, finance board member, told Lowenstein the panel a week earlier had voted no increase for the town's top elected official.
"Our resolution was to keep the salary the same" for the first selectman at $101,475, she said.
"I understand the point being made here," said Brian Stern, board member. He said the salary currently offered "does exclude" some people from running for that office, since it can't compare with much higher salaries, such as those in "private industry."
Stern agreed "a broader discussion is needed" on the first selectman salary issue, adding the amount considered should be "$130,000 or something like that."